Home Doctor Who 2024 - Season 1 Doctor Who Second Sight Review: Space Babies

Doctor Who Second Sight Review: Space Babies

The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) & Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) in Space Babies ,BBC STUDIOS,Yoshitaka Kono

The series premiere unites Disney money with the spirit of late 1970s Doctor Who to launch an adorably chaotic new duo

 

Space babies. Space babies. Space babies. Space babies. We’ve certainly come a long way since the Twelfth Doctor declared “people never … put the word ‘space’ before
something just because it’s all hi-tech and futurey.” Now nothing gives the Doctor, in the form of Ncuti Gatwa, greater joy then babies in space. Space babies. But who can blame him? It’s a pretty joyous phrase to say. And a pretty joyous episode to watch.

This ‘second sight’ review reconsiders the episode a week, and four re-watches, on. But let’s recap for those who haven’t seen it at all yet. (Blogtor is only judging you a little). Space Babies takes the Doctor and Ruby to Babystation Beta above the planet Pacifico del Rio millennia in the future. A baby farm tasked with creating new citizens for the planet below has been abandoned by its crew. Now the last crop of Space Babies the station produced try their best to survive but time, air, and food are running out. And in the cellar levels below, the Bogeyman stirs in the dark…

 

The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA), gives Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) her first taste of space travel in Space Babies ,BBC Studios,James Pardon Doctor Who
The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA), gives Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) her first taste of space travel in Space Babies ,BBC Studios,James Pardon

Babystation Beta is a space station with dwindling supplies and a creature in the pits below

Russell T Davies has said that his inspiration for last year’s Wild Blue Yonder was 1978’s Underworld. It was an attempt to answer a question worthy its new Disney+ sibling. What if… producer Graham Williams had the GDP of small country at his disposal instead of crushing runaway inflation? But that notion continues on to the new season as the premiere similarly channels the spirit of late 1970s Doctor Who. Back then Williams was acting on a mandate to make the show less scary following some media manufactured controversies. He responded by filling it with wilder, sillier, and funnier ideas than ever before, and setting it all in orbit of the pure gravitational force of Tom Baker’s charisma and massive smile.

In 2024, Davies’ motive might be somewhat different. He’s providing a safe harbour of fun and wit in an ever stormier world. But his solution takes its cue from Williams’, only with raw power of Ncuti Gatwa, and his smile no less magnetic than Baker’s, at its core. The Giggle and The Devil’s Chord feature Williamesque vast cosmic entities. But Space Babies’ DNA instead includes a strand of Creature from the Pit in a double helix with a strand of Nightmare of Eden. In orbit high above a planet the passengers of a stranded vessel are menaced by a savage roaring monster. But the huge, gloopy green creature in the basement may simply be misunderstood. And underneath all this banter and whimsy, there are some surprisingly earnest political points.

 

Jocelyn (GOLDA ROSHEUVEL) & Eric in Space Babies,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon

Russell T Davies’ gift for encapsulating huge ideas in simple, heartfelt, dialogue once more lifts Doctor Who

There’s a large strand of Davies’ own earlier work spliced in too. (It’s science fiction: it’s DNA can have three strands.) Doctor Who has always taken the opportunity of a new companion to present a crash course on the show’s premise for new viewers. But there’s a whole new audience coming on board via Disney+. So it’s natural Space Babies gives us the most comprehensive briefing since 2005.

This is Ruby’s first voyage into space, and we get a virtual play by play of The End of the World. It’s complete with space station windows looking out upon the stars, and jiggery pokery with phones for calls to mum. But it’s a form of recycling that’s hard to mind. Apart from the nostalgia it generates in anyone over, oh, 25 or so, it reminds us that people in Rose and Ruby’s position would all have the same fundamental worries and wonders.

This boot camp in the show’s lore also demonstrates part of what sets Davies apart as a Doctor Who writer. It shows his economical ability to pour worlds of feeling into just a few words. He embraces the Doctor’s current status quo since he last worked on the show. Previously, the whole business with the Timeless Child and losing his world in not one, but two global genocides (Lady Bracknell would not be amused) seemed to require a slide show presentation to explain. However, Davies condenses it down to a single sentence word sketch of poetic beauty. “The one who was adopted is the only one left.”

 

Captain Poppy of Babystation Beta in Space Babies ,BBC STUDIOS,James Pardon

All the running down corridors and the whimsy serves a message of sincerity and heart

We else get some other distinctly Daviesesque touches. There’s a fart joke of such raw power that it makes the Slitheen seem positively sophisticated. The script also mines blown noses and full nappies for humour, and some may balk at it. Davies clearly thinks this is the best route to the hearts of new viewers and 19 years (a whole Ruby Sunday) on from burping wheelie bins, it’s hard to argue.

But Davies also never forgets what Doctor Who is for. He supplies Gatwa with plenty of what his 1970s predecessor Jon Pertwee called ‘moments of charm.’

Wondering when Captain Poppy was last hugged, and discovering the answer is “never,” he enfolds her in the most tender embrace. While his reassurance to the fretful Poppy that “nobody grows up wrong,” is as beautiful as it is simple, and powerful as it is true. The story wraps silliness and shenanigans around proper, big, science fiction ideas and a lot of heart.

Indeed, it’s easy to imagine Davies is making a little mischief here. When writing The Giggle he accurately predicted that a small, shrill, segment of the audience would have been complaining about Shirley’s use of a wheelchair in The Star Beast. Now, he makes the key moral of this story things you’d think would be universally agreed upon. Starving babies to death is bad, y’all. In doing so, he’s set the same crowd up to make themselves look even more ridiculous when they inevitably complain.

 

Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) and The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa prepare to face the Bogeyman,BBC STUDIOS AND BAD WOLF Photo by James Pardon

Refurbishing the window dressing around the show merely serves to emphasize the core traits that define Doctor Who

The Twelfth and Fifteenth Doctor might disagree about slapping the word ‘space’ in front of everything (just imagine that 70th Anniversary special.) But when the Capaldi incarnation proclaimed that the Doctor what he does because “it’s right. Because it’s decent. Because above all, it’s kind,” he’s describing the Gatwa version to a tee.

Doctor Who has begun its latest reinvention. Its sets wouldn’t wobble if you paid them. And, oh, you could pay them. Graham Williams could probably have spent its budget for painting out green leotard wearing puppeteers making an entire six part serial. The Doctor himself throws hugs around like they’re going out of fashion.

But the more you refurbish the window dressing, the sharper the focus on the show’s soul, as the Doctor throws himself across an airlock to save the monster. Doctor Who and its central character are right. They’re decent. And above all, they’re kind. Doctor Who is still Doctor Who. A show Graham Williams would surely have been proud to still be an influence on, 45 years later.

 

Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) on a battlefield in Boom ,BBC Studios/Bad Wolf,James Pardon

Doctor Who continues on Friday at midnight BST with Boom on iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ everywhere else except Ireland

 

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